Monday, March 19, 2012

Review: Saying no to Labour's right turn

A chance for you to read, review and comment on the following post:

"Saying "No" To Labour's Right-Turn: A Reply To Matt McCarten"

Not Again: Labour politicians have turned right on their Reds before - most recently in 1984. What left-wing trade unionist and commentator, Matt McCarten, seems to have forgotten is that in a political environment dominated by the Right, the "centre" keeps shifting - and not to the Left!

IT’S NOT OFTEN that I find myself in disagreement with Matt McCarten. For the best part of a quarter-century our “take” on the political scene has been distinguished more by the views we shared than the opinions which caused our analyses to diverge. On the question of Labour’s shift to the right, however, I find myself at loggerheads with Matt’s position.

Essentially, Matt’s line is that Labour long ago ceased to be a real left-wing party, and so it is both more honest, ideologically, and much more effective, politically, for Labour to seek the votes of those in the centre of the New Zealand political spectrum, leaving those on the Left to those genuinely left-wing parties, Mana and the Greens.

Under our MMP electoral system, Matt argues, Labour is most unlikely ever to find itself in a position to govern alone. Like John Key’s National Party, it will be forced to seek the support of parties located at a much greater distance from the centre than itself. Providing these parties keep their nerve at the point of negotiating confidence and supply agreements, says Matt, the overall programme of any new Labour-led coalition government will be considerably more left-wing than the manifesto Labour, on its own, presented to the electorate.

But, is Matt justified in assuming that Labour’s coalition partners will be either inclined, or permitted, to keep their nerve and negotiate an agreement at significant odds with that of the dominant coalition partner?

If, as Matt concedes, Labour’s political trajectory is now firmly set; from Goff’s hesitant (and personally discordant) leftism, to Shearer’s eager embrace of the policies associated with the conservative Finnish prime minister, Esko Aho; then a 2014 “win” by Labour will be attributed (both by itself and the right-wing news media) to the electorate’s endorsement of the very same policies. In this context, the ability of the smaller left-wing parties to “force” Labour to embrace radical policy initiatives – policies already “rejected” by a clear majority of voters – will be extremely limited.

The other problem with Matt’s analysis is that it makes no allowance for the impact a right-wing Labour Party is bound to have on the national (with a small “n”) political environment. By reinforcing the Right’s overall ideological dominance, Labour will make it that much harder for all political parties to evince radical left-wing ideas.

This is likely to be especially true of the Greens, who, having broken through the 10 percent threshold in 2011, will be especially reluctant to revert, at least in the public’s imagination, to once again being a radical party of the political fringe. In other words, if Labour shifts to the Right, the Greens are much more likely to shadow them than they are to increase the ideological distance between them. New Zealand leftists should not forget that the Green’s dramatically improved their electoral position in 2011 by tacking to the Right – not the Left.

Matt’s thesis would be much stronger if the Mana Party could be relied upon to motivate and mobilise a significant proportion of the 2011 “Non-Vote” of close to three-quarters-of-a-million New Zealanders. But building a truly mass-party of the Left is almost certainly beyond the intellectual, organisational and financial resources of Mana. And even if, by some political miracle, Hone Harawira proved equal to the task of creating a massive new block of radicalised voters from harassed and impoverished workers and beneficiaries, the change his success would bring to the national political environment would, almost certainly, see Labour tacking back towards the Left. In the circumstances of an electoral uprising of beneficiaries and the working poor, the political centre would no longer be a safe place for Labour to be found.

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